Ardrey Kell broke open a pitchers’ duel in the bottom of the fifth inning with six runs on two doubles and two home runs.
Those were the only runs scored in the game as the Knights beat North Mecklenburg 6-0 in the second round of the N.C. 4A state baseball tournament Friday at Ardrey Kell.
The Knights (27-2), ranked No. 23 nationally by MaxPreps, will play South Caldwell in the third round of the playoffs next week. The win is the 14th in a row for Ardrey Kell after an April 5 loss to Hough.
Neither team could get going offensively in the first four innings. Ardrey Kell starting pitcher Zach Featherstone (11 strikeouts) held the Vikings (18-9) to just one hit in five and two-thirds innings of work.
North Mecklenburg starter River Ryan, a sophomore, allowed just three hits in the first four innings.
“You’ve got to give River Ryan some credit,” Ardrey Kell coach Hal Bagwell said. “Now he’s a young pitcher, but he pitched outstanding today. He kept us off balance, he pitched us smart.”
But the Ardrey Kell bats started connecting in the fifth. Foster Machicote’s double scored Logan Beehler. The next batter, Max Garner, doubled home Bryce Rhead and Machicote.
Next up for the Knights was sophomore Aaron Pilkington, who hit a two-run home run – his 19th of the season – over the centerfield fence.
“He’s had big hits for us all year,” Bagwell said about Pilkington. “He’s such a mature hitter to be so young. He has unbelievable strike zone awareness. ... He just thrives in big situations.”
Featherstone, the next batter, hit a solo home run to give the Knights their sixth run.
“River has only pitched for me in a couple of games this year,” North Meck coach Sean Ryan said. “And we held our own for a long time and just that one inning he slipped with a few pitches that were up in the zone, and if you slip with these guys they’re going to tattoo it.”
North Mecklenburg loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh, but Ardrey Kell reliever Kollin Schrenk forced a pop-up, a soft groundball and struckout the final batter to close out the game.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” Sean Ryan said. “They hung in there every step of the way and didn’t give up all the way to the end and that’s what we’re all about at North.”
The Vikings had just one hit outside of that final inning. North Meck senior Ryder Ryan, a North Carolina signee projected to be picked as early as the third round of the upcoming MLB draft, was held hitless in the game.
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